Studies for the Justice of Trajan
inscribed ‘14 [...] chevaux de ce coté’ (upper left); ‘plus haut dans/ la toile’ (center), and with inscription ‘La Justice de Trajan’ (verso)
graphite and brush and brown ink, on wove paper
734 x 1218 in. (9.5 x 30.5 cm)
The artist’s estate (L. 838a); Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 17-29 February 1864, part of lot 339.
Sagot-Legance, Paris.
with Claude Aubry, Paris.
with Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, New York.
A. Rebout, L’Œuvre complet de Eugène Delacroix. Peintures, dessins, gravures, lithographies, New York, 1969, part of no. 1695.
L. Johnson, The Paintings of Eugène Delacroix. A Critical Catalogue, III, Oxford, 1986, p. 93, 94, under no. 271.
Kyoto, Municipal Museum, and Tokyo, National Museum, Exposition Delacroix, 1969, no. D17, ill.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863). Paintings, Drawings, and Prints from North American Collections, 1991, no. 39, ill. (catalogue by L. Johnson).
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Lot Essay

Made at the height of Delacroix’s career as the leading artist of the French Romantic School, this drawing is one of over thirty recorded for The Justice of Trajan, a large painting first exhibited at the Salon of 1840 and now at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen (inv. D.844.1.1; fig. 1; see Johnson, op. cit., III, no. 271, IV, pl. 89). The painting caused a sensation at its unveiling, and the poet and critic Théophile Gautier lauded it as ‘one of the most remarkable pieces by the modern school’ (quoted ibid., III, p. 92). It was bought by the French state and destined to enrich the museum in Bordeaux, but Delacroix himself requested that it go to Rouen. Two smaller painted versions of the composition exist: one, an oil sketch (whereabouts unknown) preceding the final version, the other a small-scale repetition in the Honolulu Museum of Art (Johnson, op. cit., III, nos. 270, 272, IV, pls. 88, 90).
The literary inspiration for the painting was provided by Dante’s Purgatorio (canto X), which recounts how a widow pleads with the Roman Emperor Trajan, who is on his way to battle, to bring justice to the killer son; he halts the march of his soldiers because ‘justice so wills, and pity doth retain me’ (verse 93, in Longfellow’s translation). Delacroix was already struck by the passage in 1834, and the earliest dated drawings related to the painting were made by him in 1837. Thirty-six sheets in all are recorded under lot 339 in the catalogue of the 1864 sale of the artist’s estate, of which this sheet was one; of them, about half are today in the Rouen museum (S. Guégan, ‘À propos d’un cheval rose. Note sur le Trajan de Delacroix au Salon de 1840’ in Delacroix. La Naissance d’un nouveau romantisme, exhib. cat., Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 1998, pp. 104-111, nos. 89-94, pp. 169-170, nos. 163-179). On one particularly interesting sheet at the Louvre, Delacroix noted some of the visual sources he used for his composition: Antonio Tempesta’s prints of horses and soldiers, and Raphael’s Meeting of Leo the Great and Attila in the Vatican Stanze (inv. RF 9364; see M. Sérullaz et al., Musée du Louvre. Cabinet des dessins. Inventaire général des dessins. École française. Dessins d’Eugène Delacroix, 1798-1863, Paris, 1984, I, no. 311, ill.).
The present sheet, one of the ‘more elaborate composition studies’ for the painting (Johnson, op. cit., III, p. 94), combines four separate studies of the Emperor on his horse: one, at the center, in graphite, the others, grouped around it in an appealing mise-en-page, in brush and brown ink. Perhaps more than any sheet in the group of drawings related to the picture, they give an insight into Delacroix’s search for the most effective composition. The sketch at upper right shows the emperor riding from the left; in the three others, as in the final painting and most other drawings, he comes from the right. Common to all of them and to the painting is the low viewpoint. In the most elaborate of the sketches on the sheet is the one upper left, Trajan emerges from underneath a triumphal arch and, surrounded by a multitude of mounted soldiers and other figures, is met by the widow, here turned towards the viewer with her arms outstretched. (In the final solution, she faces away.) Closing it off at left with the banner held by one the soldiers, Delacroix here seems to have had a horizontal composition in mind, whereas the painting as executed is monumentally vertical, but the idea is already full of the ‘commotion and pomp’ for which Baudelaire praised the painting when he saw it at the Exposition universelle in 1855 (quoted in Johnson, op. cit., III, p. 92). In its attractive layout, energetic style and combination of media, as well as in the powerful evocation of history – which Gautier in his review of 1840 compared to ‘the furious liveliness with which Rubens animates his antique compositions’ (ibid.) – the drawing is one of those works in which Delacroix shows himself on a par with the old masters he so much admired.
Fig. 1. Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix, The Justice of Trajan. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen.

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